11 September 2012

Chokecherry syrup

On a recent visit to my home in southern Alberta, we arrived in the peak of chokecherry season. I wanted to give my son a taste of home, so we planned an excursion into the river valley to collect chokecherries.

Even in Alberta, few people my age know what chokecherries are. They are plentiful berries that hang in clusters, and have a very large pit relative to the berry. And they're really not that tasty. They have an astringent quality, similar to rhubarb, that makes your lips and teeth feel unpleasant. But when cooked with lots of sugar, they're quite delicious.


We were able to easily find large areas of chokecherries growing in a park in Lethbridge, and they were largely undisturbed. We could have picked there all day, but the kids quickly grew tired, so we returned home with a few buckets of cherries.


While picking we talked about food and cooking, and the flavours that I can't get in Massachusetts. And I told my 74-year old mom about foraging, and how terribly hip it is. "Well, I guess I've been hip all my life" she said. "We've always picked chokecherries, saskatoons and gooseberries."

We spent several hours de-stemming the cherries and chatting with my mom and her sister about the foods of old, and what they ate when they were very poor in the 1940s and 1950s.

Beautiful chokecherries

Chokecherries, rhubarb and damson plums were inexpensive (free) and readily available. Today, they're a local luxury that too few people take advantage of.

Chokecherry syrup:

Mix equal volume:
chopped apple (for thickening)
Cover with water. Boil cherries (low simmer) for approx 1 ½ hours.

When the chokecherries have bleached, pour them into a colander lined with cheesecloth placed over a pot to catch the juice.

Chokecherry goop

When we got to this step, my mother turned to me and put on a very sombre face. "You have a choice. Most recipes say at this stage not to press the chokecherries, because it releases all kinds of stuff that makes the syrup not be clear. I press the cherries to release all that flavor. What do you want to do?"

What would you do? I did it Mom's way. We squeezed the cherries, for a turbid syrup that was as delicious as I remembered from my childhood. Measure out the syrup you recover, and mix with an equal volume of:
Boil for a few minutes, until sugar is dissolved and syrup thickens.

Chokecherry mess

I was surprised by how simple her canning process is. She uses cleaned old jam, jelly and pickle jars, rinses them with boiling water. She boils the lids for a few minutes, adds the boiling syrup to the jars, and then applies the lids. Take your own canning precautions.

Chokecherry syrup

We use this syrup for pancakes, crêpes and waffles. The flavour is bright, and unique. Unlike anything you can get commercially. Delicious.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm not sure why you claim you can't get chokecherries in massachusetts. i know for a fact that they grow by the ocean in both MA and RI.

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